Monday, September 26, 2011

Opening to Learn More: Journal Notes #58

Notes from my August 2008 Zhan Zhuang Training Journal. I train with The School of Cultivation and Practice which practices Wujifa zhan zhuang.. (My current reflections are added in italics.)

* Question: After that amazing July 6 class, I went on vacation. I felt a joy in the silent tranquility of the woods that I can't remember ever experiencing before. Then when I returned home, I felt home to be very barren and distant. Why did I feel such an extraordinary difference this time?
Answer: Your openness allowed you to soak in the experience. You anchored yourself to the feeling in the woods and compared that to the feeling at home in the suburbs. When you're open, you notice. Use this same openness in noticing in your body. Soak it up.

* Question: I thought I had attained "the feeling" in the preceding July 6 Wujifa class and thought I had "something". So during a family get-together in early August, I pushed with my brother, a big construction-type guy, thinking I could demonstrate my new found "magic" but I couldn't push him. Why not?
Answer: Show me how he was standing.

Me: Like this. Back leg at 45 degree angle, body leaning slightly forward.

Answer: That's why. He was bracing. The brace is the strongest structure. Pushing into a brace is not the way to verify your internal connectedness.

Me: But I noticed my legs loading...

Answer: Show me what you did. OK. That's good but you are using contraction in your arms and not eccentric expansion.

Note: Then Rick adjusted my stance and arms and pushed and I easily withstood the push without feeling effort in arms.

Me: Wow! Very cool and... Argh! So frustrating!

Answer: Feeling frustrated is closing to opportunity. Stay open.

* Question: What do you mean "closing to opportunities"? How do I recognize opportunities in zhan zhuang stance practice?
Answer: A lot of analytical, data-type guys like yourself, work in the past. Data comes from what is passed. So to balance that, develop a sense of future. Anchor life events in the future and experience them arriving and passing. Practice completing the following phrase ten minutes/day: I'm looking forward to ______ . It's not important what you write, but that you write to develop those neural pathways, a sense of possibilities in the future.

* Question: Is this why I'm not making quicker progress? I'm not seeing opportunities to develop?
Answer: Opportunities are only in the future. Your approach has been to compare new experiences to past feelings, to match the present to the past, to force new experiences into an old box. This strategy/method works with a "teacher" who spoon feeds "students" but this method does not breed independence and self responsibility.

It is difficult to recognize opportunities and make discoveries without taking responsibility for your own growth. Are you noticing to put a new experience in a box to show the teacher? Are you noticing for an opportunity to discover to move out of the box to become your own teacher?

* Question: Why might someone avoid practicing zhan zhuang?
Answer: There are a couple reasons: The body may need to rest. Give it a rest when needed. Honor the body. And then there's the more common reasons of avoidance, fear, laziness, lack of focus.

* Question: Why don't you do regular Ta chi style push-hands?
Answer: Typical push hands forms have their place. However, paradoxically, they also keep you stuck at a certain level. You can't develop the internals from the way push hands is typically taught with large external movements.

* Question: So... can you develop internal connectedness from push hands and if so, how?
Answer: Reduce all movement to the smallest possible point of contact and play there. The "movement" then becomes about applying intention pressure on the point of contact or off the point of contact. We call this "point, off-point". It looks like two people standing still in an initial push-hands posture. There is no externally observable movement. The play occurs inside the body with micro-adjustments to pressure involving noticing and resolving breaks and sticky points in yourself to develop a better connection to ground and extending your feeling to notice and exploit breaks in "the other person".

* Question: So, are there ways to train point and off-point?
Answer: There are two roads in Wujifa push-hands:
  1. Teach and learn all possible points.
  2. Play with relaxed awareness.

* Question: With side-to-side, does the leg push or pull?
Answer: How many ways can you discover opening and closing the kua? Yes, both and neither. Stop trying to muscle it.

* Question: You guys have talked about teaching before. How do you approach teaching?
Answer: Distinguish between beginners and advanced and the kind of adjustments to suggest. For example, in a class of 10 or so, it's enough to stick with adjusting 1,2,3,4 ; 1,2,3,4. Give simple adjustments that give a sensation that awaken the person to their kinesthetics. Help the student discover for him/herself.

If you teach the data and you don't know the feeling, then students won't get the feeling. This is common.

If you teach the feeling and don't ground it kinesthetically, then students equate this with being spiritual, lofty, mystical. This too is common.

You need to teach both. Keep the feeling grounded. Many teachers don't have both and can't teach both.

Further reading:
Introductory article explaining this "Journal Notes" series: Zhan Zhuang Training Journal
Previous article in this series: Stance Is Life and Life Is Stance: Journal Notes #57
Next article in this series: Feels Like Nothing: Journal Notes #59

Make sure to visit and the Wujifa blog.
And stop by The School of Cultivation and Practice.

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